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Change Your Shoes: Starting point of the way to an ethical and sustainable shoe supply chain

The Buy Shoes Responsibly! campaign for the sustainable and ethical production of shoes is part of the Change Your Shoes campaign carried out by 18 organisations from Europe and Global South countries. The Buy Shoes Responsibly! project is a contribution to an undertaking funded by the European Commission called Starting Point on the Way to an Ethical and Sustainable Shoe Supply Chain.

By creating this project, the Buy Responsibly Foundation took into consideration one of the key developmental challenges, the problem of violating human rights and environmental protection standards in globalised production in Global South countries. According to a 2015 Nielsen survey, only 3% of respondents in Poland feel that they are well informed about the working conditions of people who make shoes. Poles are also unaware of the environmental conditions in which shoes are made. Reflections on these issues make one aware of the terrible situation of people who make shoes – starvation wages and life in extreme poverty, lack of funds for proper food, housing, medical costs or education, persecution of activists fighting for workers’ rights, the lack of contracts, continuous overtime work, failure to observe health and safety rules in the workplace. Violating standards is the cause of environmental pollution, the lack of transparency and oversight in the supply chain, which in the end will affect consumers who, unaware of the uncontrolled production processes, buy shoes with toxic substances.

According to a survey conducted by the Buy Responsibly Foundation, 86% of respondents declared that they would be ready to pay more for shoes made in an environmentally friendly way and in good working conditions, while in 2010 and 2012 surveys conducted by the Polish Green Network, as many as two-thirds of respondents said they would like to know more about responsible consumption. More than 50% said they would be inclined to pay more for products manufactured in a more responsible way. In order for this trend not to remain visible only among the young, a consumer campaign is needed, such as the one in this project.

Change Your Shoes: Starting point of the way to an ethical and sustainable shoe supply chain

Together with the project partner, Clean Clothes Polska, the Buy Responsibly Foundation (BRF) planned a number of activities conducted by traditional and online media: educational measures under the #WeWantToKnow campaign and preparation and dissemination of educational materials, brochures and reports with the working titles “Made in Indonesia” and “The True Cost of Leather Shoes.” There are also plans to create a “Buy Shoes Responsibly” campaign spot.

The project material has a chance to reach a wide group of people, which is facilitated by the Foundation’s extensive contacts (mailing more than 12,000 addressees from the BRF contacts list), the website ekonsument.pl (about 30,000 visits a month) and BRF social media channels (more than 60,000 followers). Materials in paper form can be acquired from non-governmental organisations, teachers and during BRF activities. Direct dialogue with the initiator of the project was established during educational campaigns at larger public events that were mainly aimed at young people (e.g. at summer festivals, picnics, local events etc.). Campaigns were organised at the stalls of the Buy Responsibly Foundation, where young people and adults were able to learn where and under what conditions the shoes they bought were made, what problems are encountered in global shoe production, how they affect workers and local communities as well as the environment in the production countries of the Global South. During such events, people were also able to learn about measures that could be taken to solve these problems and about the possibilities of involving young consumers from Poland. At the end of the project, there was a roundtable discussion about the problems addressed by the project.

Change Your Shoes: Starting point of the way to an ethical and sustainable shoe supply chain

The main aim of the project was to improve knowledge on the social and environmental problems related to shoe making in the Global South countries.

The project was implemented in Poland and throughout the world from 1 February to 31 December 2017, as part of the Change Your Shoes global campaign. Activities were centred around the information campaign #wewanttoknow in the media and in public places, dialogue with shoe companies as well as availability of educational material.

The project ended with a petition to firms of the industry, signed by internet users, as well as a meeting with representatives of the shoe industry in Poland.